Why social care is key to pandemic public inquiry – Bernard Ingham

NOW that society has kindly rejoined me in my home with Monday’s easing of Covid restrictions, I find we are perhaps inevitably preoccupied with the pandemic, the NHS and social care.

How should social care be reformed in the wake of the Covid pandemic?

We shall not get it out of our system for a while yet, even though vaccination is working its magic, because the inquiry into the handling of the pandemic is not scheduled until next year and the PM is accused of reneging on a promise to sort out care.

Meanwhile, the NHS is beset with problems. This is therefore a good time to sort out the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

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First, I hope the inquiry approaches its task with a certain humility that was lacking in the Government’s reaction to the onset of Covid-19.

Boris Johnson has said that a public inquiry into the Government's handling of the Covid pandemic should not begin until next year.

It did not acknowledge enough that mistakes would be made since it was fighting an unknown plague without an antidote.

Instead, it “followed the science” 
which was inevitably all over the show – so much so that an excess of 20,000 deaths was thought likely to be a good outcome.

Instead, the death toll is now over 127,000.

In other words, while not pulling its punches, the inquiry should recognise that fighting Covid was like two men boxing in a dark cellar.

Boris Johnson wants to delay the start of the Covid public inquiry until next year.

It will serve no useful purpose unless it acknowledges the enormity of the challenge which is still ravaging other countries.

General Hindsight never lost a battle.

But we shall all be the poorer if that is all the inquiry comes up with.

We need analyses of the pressure points if we are to be in a better position to combat any future pandemic.

Why did the forecasts of deaths cover such a broad range, even up to 500,000?

Can we ever have adequate stocks of protective equipment (PPE) at reasonable cost?

Why was there such a miscalculation of the effect on care home patients when the elderly are inevitably vulnerable to a respiratory virus?

Why has vaccination been far more successful than acquisition of PPE and test and trace?

How can it be said that the measures, including army-built Nightingale hospitals, prevented the NHS from being overwhelmed when we now have a vastly extended queue for diagnosis and treatment of other conditions?

How can we better protect the full range of NHS services in another health emergency?

This raises the question of how GPs should go about their work.

It is one thing to avoid crowded surgery waiting rooms passing on infections.

But it is another matter when, as is clear from complaints, it seems to be a lottery whether you can get face-to-face consultations which are so important to reassuring diagnosis.

Why should it be as difficult to telephone your GP as the average enterprise which, to add insult to injury, proclaims to value your business?

I recognise that there are a lot of hypochondriacs around yet curiously too much failure to keep appointments.

But the welter of complaining letters in the daily press tells you that something is very wrong with the service.

This brings me to care of the elderly and vulnerable.

They are an integral part of the whole problem of managing the nation’s health.

This is where the eventual inquiry will come up against the reality – if it is realistic – that the NHS has not been free at the point of delivery for years.

In practice, the care of the elderly has been privatised until their assets are down to just over £23,000.

So up to a point has dentistry, opthalmology, chiropody and physiotherapy services as well as prescriptions.

If the inquiry is objective it will have to examine how that – and the effective creation of GP practices as a commercial operation – has affected the welfare and overall health of the nation, especially in a pandemic.

I understand the outrage of the provident who have to pay for their own care and that of the improvident, as distinct from the unfortunate.

But the prime purpose of saving, including buying a house, is to cope with the costs of old age.

Passing on assets to your family is secondary – or should be – especially if they themselves don’t want to take on the burden of caring.

Boris Johnson has probably been wise not to come up with a solution now to the care problem.

It needs to be examined in the round of Britain’s health services.

We need a very hard look at the overall system, with no holds barred, if we are to be properly equipped for the future.

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